Friday, January 30, 2009

a day in the village

I am in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village drinking a mocha with a million books around me (very few things more soothing than this) where the sales support an organization that improves housing opportunities for at-risk individuals in New York City. This is an excellent income generator, but I feel slightly bourgeois sitting here sipping my beverage. Maybe I don't know what bourgeois means. Anyway, I brought two things to read with me: a commentary on Isaiah 40 and some documents I picked up from the Presbyterian UN office that articulate strategies for implementing the Millennium Development Goals, but neither are drawing me in. Instead I am eyeing some short stories on a shelf near me.

I like this place. I like what people are wearing. Funky glasses and wool hats. Corinthian columns hold up high ceilings and patrons look on with envy as two oblivious lovers sit enrapt with one another, palpable electricity igniting the air around them.

Isaiah 40 is a beautiful passage that begins, "Comfort, O comfort my people" and I can hear my Old Testament professor Dr. Miller speaking these words in only the way he could.... with that subtle southern drawl that cradles the words and the air that holds them. His musical intonation helped me discover the poetry of this passage in a new way and as I read it again I am reminded of how fresh these words of promise are for every generation. For our Zimbabwean neighbors, for the women in the Congo, for our new president, for me.

I walked thru the Union Square market and was amused by this gentlemen who earnestly gave free advice to those interested. I followed one kid who enthusiastically said, "He gave great advice. Really. That guy is smart." The smell of hot apple cider filled the air and despite the chilly temperatures, I was delighted to be out and about with my fellow New Yorkers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a gray sweater day

Some of you will understand this and some of you won't, but it is a gray sweater today. Yes. No doubt about it.

In my junior year of college I lived in a dingy, musty house that had been converted into apartments in the University district a short walk from campus. I have great memories of this place. It was the year I got in about 600 trillion hours of Yahtzee. And it was also the year of the gray sweater. I don't know how it happened exactly. It just slowly came on and before I knew it, I was wearing this sweater almost every day of the week. I'd get dressed in the morning and would think to myself, "What would make this outfit complete? The gray sweater of course." It was a misshapen wool cardigan that eventually needed to be patched at the elbows, but this did not matter. I wore it over pajamas. I wore it over dresses. If I had a date (did I date back then?!) no doubt I would have worn it. And today, I woke up thinking, "I need to wear a gray sweater." And so I did.

Today was an exceptionally long day and after agonizingly long church meetings that started at 8 and did not end until midnight it dawned on me, "Yep Carmen, you are now a professional religious person." No way getting around it. They even gave me a clergy card today at the Presbytery meeting. Hmmm. Clergy card.

My friend Ross from the drama department at the University of Washington used to wear a purple sweatshirt almost every day. It was one that he had worn since the 6th grade and he said it was a magic sweatshirt. He said it could actually give him the power to fly if it ever became necessary. I am pretty certain that Ross is about 60% crazy. And I love this about him.

On my way home in a taxi tonight the driver, who was from Yemen, told me that the world would be a safer, happier place if there were more strict rules. For example, he told me that in Yemen adulterers are stoned to death if they are caught in the act by at least two witnesses. He says this rarely happens in actuality, but the threat keeps people in line (or at least hiding really well). I pondered this for a bit, but quickly wrinkled my nose in disdain, paid the fare and slid out onto the sidewalk.

More happiness and peace in the world? Today I just needed a gray sweater.

Here are a couple pictures from Sunday. Some of my fav Princeton friends (aren't they good looking?!?!) came to hear me present on Zambia. Thanks Emily for the beautiful gift!

Friday, January 23, 2009


I'm barely showered, spent the day in my sweats preparing for a class I am teaching at church on Sunday, and I finally decided to emerge from my apartment tonight to walk to a local pizza joint for a slice. I was bundled up, but didn't feel quite like a typical Madison Ave resident as I strutted down the street behind a rinky dink wiener dog wearing a cashmere sweater. But then again, the longer I live here the more I realize that even on the Upper East Side you can find every kind of person imaginable. I need to wear the sweats with pride.

It's been a big week people. I hosted an inauguration lunch gathering at my apartment on Tuesday and wept with a zillion others as the new guy got sworn in. If you haven't read/heard Lowry's benediction, please do. It is theologically rich and he prays a prayer that begins, "God of our weary years, God of our silent tears..." Doesn't get better than that. This guy had me at hello. By the way, I have been keeping track, and tonight marks the first time in over a week that I have opened the New York Times website to see a front-page article/picture dedicated to a story from OUTSIDE the U.S. Sheesh. I get tired of us!!

By the way, tis the season of fertility. Babies, babies everywhere. Babies in some bellies, babies at the breast, babies in the hearts and minds of barren women, and sometimes two at once. Twins are quite in fashion it seems and it is a gift to be witness to what truly is strangely mundane and miraculous. They cause problems, these little ones. They reveal much about us, they sap our energy, and divide the attention of lovers-now-parents. But as my friend Micke says, they have much to teach us if we would simply pay attention.

I'm waxing poetic about nothing right now, so I will quit. Wish I had some achingly beautiful pictures to share-- they seemed a dime a dozen in Zambia, but my eye feels hazy of late.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Cold Day in Philly

It is freezing in this part of the world and everyone around me is abuzz with the upcoming inauguration. Obama left Philadelphia this morning about the time I arrived, so many twittering passengers joked about catching a glimpse of our next president. We’ll see if Barak will live up to all the hype, eh? I spent the day with my friends Becky and Andy who are expecting a little baby any time.

Lately it has taken me a long time to find inspiration for a blog posting, but today provided at least 20 interactions that I found delightfully share-worthy. Taught an older gentlemen all about the free use of computers and internet at the public library a little after 7 this morning as a golden sunrise and a cup of coffee thawed my hands. Passing along info about newfangled technology felt pretty good. Then I sat on the bus next to a girl that is studying to be a Rabbi and we were fast friends by the end of the ride. I think we are going to try to get together in the next couple of weeks to drink coffee and read Torah together. How cool is this!?

And then there was brunch at a Jewish-Southern diner in West Philly and rich conversation with dear chums. There is very little in life that is better than good food with good friends. By the way, I still don't know what a Jewish-Southern diner is exactly.... kosher BIG breakfasts that include potato latke and pancakes the size of the moon?!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Typical Friday Night...

I've been slumming in my pajamas all day while working on a presentation I will give on Sunday. It has been fun to review video footage of life in Zambia and I was particularly caught off guard as I watched little old mamas make charcoal outside a shanty compound near my house. It has been months since I had seen these women and to be honest I had forgotten about them. Most of them are widows in their seventies who use the bark dumped by a local wood mill to make chunks of charcoal to sell in the market. I have to remind myself over and over again, "Work on the presentation Carmen" because I find myself enrapt in the material.

I went to the grocery store tonight and it dawned on me around 74th and Park Avenue that I was still wearing my sweats and tennis shoes and only looked slightly more put together because of a matching scarf and hat. I literally started laughing as I absorbed the world around me-- handsome men in wool suits and women in mink. I am such an NYC fraud... at times anyway. Actually, I love that people don't seem to be bothered about this one way or another. As I walked I came up with a story to tell if I was cued by a random pedestrian. "Why is a 30 year old single woman, barely showered, on her way to the grocery store in her sweats on a Friday night? Glad you asked. I am very important and cannot even spare a Friday night away from my important work." Erh... no one is going to buy this. :-)

I uploaded a video clip to Youtube... some images from a day in the life of Carmen in Zambia, but my stupid Mac is pretending like links don't exist. So, if you want to watch it, copy and paste people. Sorry!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A little ad campaign in England...

A wee bit of controversy, eh? What do you think?

This would never fly in the U.S. despite the fact we value free speech. Hey Brits, you gave us John Stuart Mill, one of the early political philosophers that flushed out this notion... full freedom to publicly discuss any topic as long as it does not bring harm to another (or something like this?! I have 'On Liberty' somewhere).

This would never fly in Zambia either.

According to this advertisement, at the heart of faith is fear... Stop worrying it says. Yes, I have a sneaking suspicion that this is true for many people. Fear drives some spiritual quests and recruits some followers. But that makes me sad.

What do you think? :-)

A rainy night

I walked home from yoga tonight on a slick pavement, cris-crossing the city blocks along the black licorice grid that evenly divides this city into neighborhoods and neighborhoods and neighborhoods.

This is not supposed to happen in Yoga, but tonight at the very end of class, the lights dimmed in this hot, packed classroom and my forehead found the mat as I slid into the comfortable "child's pose" and without warning, giant, fat tears began to roll down my face. No one was paying attention so I indulged them for a minute and let my whole body feel the blanket of sadness that curled around every inch of flesh. Maybe it was the acoustic guitar or maybe it was fatigue or maybe it was the picture on the front page of the New York Times of 3 young men carrying a dying classmate in Gaza...

I miss Zambia today. I miss my friends and colleagues and I miss the mangos and holding hands while we walk and eating with my hands and the birds that sing to us in the morning and the bats that lull us to sleep at night. I miss chetenge and singing and dancing and bartering in the market.

Tomorrow I preach at a healing and wholeness service, so I get to find comfort in the story of Hannah tonight as I prepare...

What a broken world. A sad, broken world.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A beautiful day

I have heard it said that "designer clothes are overrated." I say, unequivocally, that these people are wrong. Now, before you sigh a judgmental sigh of outrage, let me assure you, I am not an advocate of purchasing$1500 pairs of shoes. Do we need designer clothes? Blimey! No! But are the cuts and fabrics superior in every way imaginable? Yes. I decided to pretend for a couple of hours that I am above the American masses who rely on Isaac Mizrahi for Target to outfit my wardrobe and visit Bergdorf Goodman on 5th Avenue (they are famous for their gorgeous window displays at Christmas). I carefully walked through 5 of the 7 floors and I admit that there was one little dress made by an Italian designer featured on floor 3 that I salivated over for a good three minutes. Picture a knee-length, navy Audrey Hepburn with a slightly more dangerous neckline in the most perfectly textured satin imaginable. Voila! Knock-your-socks-off beautiful. On my way out I chatted with some women selling purses and I think they were a little embarrassed for me when I laughingly told them that this store was out of my price range. One of the sales clerks had a fantastic Russian accent and I was curious to know how this woman with a stylish silver coiffure ended up behind the purse counter at Bergdorf Goodman in New York.

I passed lots of good-looking Italian tourists as I walked home and I think that Italians are generally fabulously good-looking people. At least the one's I have encountered. And they have one of the best languages/accents on earth. When I was in South Africa I spent a day with an Italian woman who recited a love poem she learned as a child and my friend Udo and I literally had to pause, gaping for just a moment, at the sensual words that easily rolled off her tongue. And just when my thoughts were lingering on beauty and my own shame for nestling back into consumeristic culture with far too much ease, I met an old woman on Madison and 59th who asked if I might help her across the street. I smiled broadly and offered her my arm and thought, "Do people still do this?!" Her pink cashmere gloves and the frail fingers beneath gingerly clasped my arm as we chatted about the sun and the wind. Her warmth melted my brooding and reminded me again, "O yes, this is beautiful. This moment just now." New York is full of surprises and full of beauty. The right kind.

Is there a broader juxtaposition between my world in Manhattan and Kitwe, Zambia?! I think not.

Friday, January 2, 2009


This is my new interest. Yoga. I like that it is called a "practice." The teacher said at the end of class tonight, palms pressed together in front of his chest, "Thank you for allowing me into your practice." My practice?! I look around the room feeling pretty good about myself. This man, this intensely fit, serene man thanked ME for practicing with HIM. I like this.

We got into this head stand position tonight that reminded me two things: one, I have no core strength; two, I think it is universally true that we should all turn ourselves upside-down once in awhile to get a refreshing perspective on life.